I have had a best friend for over 3 decades, we met on her first day to University in Nigeria. She resumed late, and I had arrived three weeks before she did. The first advice I gave her was the different tactics she would need to dodge the sexual advances of the lecturers.
I was barely 16 years old then, but the first lesson I learnt as an undergraduate student in Nigeria was how to avoid sexual advances from my lecturers. I avoided many classes and had low grades because I refused to succumb. I can recall my English lecturer giving me this quote when he ran into me on the corridor; “He that fights and runs away lives to fight another day.’ I had spent months avoiding his classes and refusing to come to his office on campus in the evenings. I had a C in his class.
This continued with different lecturers for the next 4 years of my undergraduate studies, with a lecturer holding back my final grade unless I had sex with him, I did not. It took my father threatening him in his home town including his community and family to get him to release my result and I graduated late. I wonder about those who did not have a father like mine who literarily declared war on the professor. This experience continued as I sought employment in Lagos through the media houses. A few years after graduation, I went on to take my masters in Canada where the experience was different. I enjoyed my two years in University and graduated with excellent grades.
In late 2012, I was posted to Nigeria to take on an appointment as the United Nations Head of the Humanitarian Advisory Team based in Abuja. Given it is perhaps the most popular Church in Abuja, I attended the Commonwealth of Zion Assembly (COZA) in 2013, the preacher on that Sunday was a woman who spent the 30 plus minutes’ sermon making references to some `horrible people trying to defame the reputation of the senior pastor of COZA, Biodun Fatoyinbo. I was unaware of what or who she was referring to but noted the congregation cheered as she praised Pastor Fatoyimbo and his wife as a bastion of a virtuous Christian family.
I went home to do my research and realized that COZA’s Senior pastor, Biodun Fatoyimbo had been accused of sexual misconduct by a female member of the congregation, Ese Walter, a few weeks before the Sunday I attended COZA. While admitting that her alleged week-long relationship with Fatoyimbo in London was consensual, she felt manipulated and disappointed by the way the church leadership handled the affair when she came forward with her allegations. I never went back to COZA. I was not comfortable with the message being conveyed by the female pastor in castigating a young lady for allegations of sexual misconduct.
The case is different for the recent allegation of rape (any sex with an underage/child is rape) against Fatoyimba by Busola Dakolo, celebrity photographer and wife of popular Nigerian singer Timi Dakolo. According to the Busola Dakolo, Fatoyimba raped her twice many years ago. These allegations occurred when Dakolo was less than 18 years. Fatoyimbo has denied the allegation just as he did in the case of Ese Walter. Nigerians have been reacting in shock to this recent allegation. Many others have come forward accusing other pastors of not speaking up, while others have declared that they are leaving the COZA.
I listened to the full interview by Busola, and as one who has triumphed from child rape, I get her. I really get her. I know the decades-long trauma and how long and hard the healing process is. In time you realize that a bad thing was done to you and you were not the bad thing, but it takes a while, and an amazing husband like to Timi Dakolo.
In all the reactions that have surrounded this rape allegation against COZA senior pastor Fatoyimba, I will like to put the touch light back on the courage of Busola Dakolo and Ese Walters for speaking up. This is not easy in Nigeria. With the outpouring of condemnation in the case of Busola, we are glad to note that the story is different from the reaction when Walters came forward with her allegation.
Perhaps, we are making progress. But we must not limit our outrage to the religious community, especially the churches. Sexual predators and the rape of minors is prevalent in Nigeria. Sex has become a way some Nigerian men display their power, sadly many young girls have come to associate their worth to how and who they accept that power from sexually.
The message this recent rape allegation sends about the quality of our religious leaders is disheartening. The pain Busola endured all these years following the alleged rape is heart-wrenching, but I commend the courage that has been demonstrated by Busola in coming forward. Let us ensure that the boldness and courage of this amazing and beautiful woman are not in vain.
It is time we challenge the normalcy of the sexual abuse, rape, and exploitation of Nigeria’s young women in Nigeria. I used my experience as an undergraduate student in Nigeria, to demonstrate that the crisis of rape, sexual abuse and exploitation is a crisis in Nigeria. Pastor Fatoyimbo is being accused of what is prevalent and has been accepted as normal in Nigeria: sex with underage women, which is by itself rape whether `consent’ is perceived or not. This is the salient message here. If Fatoyimbo is guilty, he is part of a crisis in the country.
Busola has started a movement, one that must be amplified, we must talk about sexual abuse, rape and start the healing process for our people.